Society of American Indians

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An 1890 photo of Carlos Montezuma, a member of the Society of American Indians
The Society of American Indians, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1914
The Quarterly Journal of the American Society of Indians.png
American Indian Magazine, 1917-1918.png

The Society of American Indians was a progressive group formed in Columbus, Ohio in 1911 by 50 Native Americans, most of them middle-class professional men and women. It was established to address the problems facing Native Americans, such as ways to improve health, education, civil rights, and local government.

The founding six members were Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai-Apache), Charles Eastman (Dakota), Thomas L. Sloan (Omaha), Charles E. Dagenett (Peoria), Laura Cornelius (Oneida), and Chief Henry Standing Bear (Oglala Lakota).[1] Professor Fayette McKenzie of Ohio State University was a catalyst for the organization, believing in "native leadership ... based on race rather than on tribe."[2]

Seneca anthropologist Arthur C. Parker was elected to be the first secretary of the SAI.[3] He took minutes of the first conference of the SAI, held in Columbus, Ohio in 1911. Eighteen Indian activists met to create a platform for the improvement of rights and well-being of all Indians. The objectives of the group were "to encourage Indian leadership, promote self-help, and foster the assimilation of Indians while encouraging them to exhibit pride in their race."[4]

John Oskison (Cherokee), an editor of Collier's magazine, and Angel De Cora (Winnebago), art instructor at Carlisle Indian School were commissioned to create the SAI emblem.[5]

The Society of American Indians was opposed to Wild West shows theatrical troupes, circuses and most motion picture firms. The Society believed that theatrical shows were demoralizing and degrading to Indians, and discouraged Indians from "Wild Westing." [6] Chauncey Yellow Robe wrote that “Indians should be protected from the curse of the Wild West show schemes, wherein the Indians have been led to the white man’s poison cup and have become drunkards.” [7]

When the Dawes General Allotment Act was passed in 1887, it proved to be a disaster for Native Americans. In less than 50 years Native Americans lost more than two-thirds of their land. The Dawes Act forced assimilation, which caused Native Americans to give up their tribal ownership of land, in favor of private ownership. This was to become an internal problem for The Society of American Indians.

One of the most important members of the Society, Seneca tribe historian Arthur C. Parker, urged Native Americans "to strike out into duties of modern life and find every right that had escaped them before." While some members supported strengthening tribal values, most favored complete assimilation. The Society's moderate positions on most local issues led to disputes among members, thus weakening the organization.

The Society publicized the accomplishments of famous Native Americans such as Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, and lobbied against the use of such derogatory terms as "buck" and "squaw."

One member, Dr. Carlos Montezuma, urged the Society to criticize the Office of Indian Affairs for mismanaging reservations. He wanted the immediate termination of the BIA.[8] Most Society members refused to take such a strong anti-government stand, and the group's influence dwindled after 1923. The organization finally disbanded in the 1930s.[9]

While the Society did not last long, it provided a forum for Indian leaders and a basis for later attempts to improve conditions for Native Americans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About the SAI". SAI Centennial Symposium. Ohio State University. Retrieved May 28, 2013. "The [SAI] (1911-1923) was the first national American Indian rights organization developed and run by American Indians themselves, rather than by so-called 'Friends of the Indians.'" 
  2. ^ Waggoner, 189
  3. ^ Waggoner, 190
  4. ^ Wilkins, 218
  5. ^ Waggoner, 194
  6. ^ See, E.H. Gohl, (Tyagohwens), “The Effect of Wild Westing”, The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, Washington, D.C., Volume 2, 1914, p.226-228.
  7. ^ Chauncey Yellow Robe, “The Menace of the Wild West Show”, The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, Washington, D.C., Volume 2, p.224-225.
  8. ^ Waggoner, 190
  9. ^ Wilkins, 281


  • Wilkins, David Eugene. American Indian Politics and the American Political System. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. (retrieved through Google Books) ISBN 978-0-7425-5345-3.
  • Bruce E. Johansen and Barry M. Pritzker, ed. "Society of American Indians." Encyclopedia of American Indian History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008.
  • Larner, John W. "Society of American Indians." Native America in the twentieth century: an encyclopedia. Mary B. Davis, ed. New York: Garland, 1994
  • Waggoner, Linda M. Firelight: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago Artist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8061-3954-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians. (1913–1915) OCLC 1765901
  • Papers of the Society of American Indians, 1906–1946 (inclusive). Archival material. OCLC 122501459
  • Hertzberg, Hazel W. (1971). The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p. 362. ISBN 978-0815600763. OCLC 185919520. 
    • Reviewed in: Ellis, Richard N. (Fall 1971). "The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements by Hazel W. Hertzberg". Minnesota History (Minnesota Historical Society Press) 42 (7): 279–280. JSTOR 20178159. 

External links[edit]